How to Support LGBTQIA+ Students in the Classroom

A person holding the LGBTQ flag

Many districts are investing in policies that deliver valuable support for their LGBTQIA+ students, and these initiatives are part of an ongoing effort to create more equitable and inclusive education systems. Research in areas such as mental health, social dynamics, and LGBTQIA+ challenges has led to the development of best practices that address a wide range of issues students have faced in classrooms in the past.

It’s producing more effective education and better outcomes for all students regardless of their identity, and standards are constantly evolving. Keeping educators informed and updated with science-backed professional development content like Not Alone—Techniques to Support Trans Youth by Premiere will be vital for maintaining the positive momentum.

Of course, the work of developing supportive classroom environments falls on the shoulders of teachers who are responsible for setting standards and outlining strategies for their classes. Knowing how to support LGBTQIA+ students in the classroom begins with a few basic principles (backed by your principal!) that will establish an inclusive tone for all your students.

The Challenges Facing LGBTQIA+ Students

It can be very difficult for teachers who are not part of the LGBTQIA+ community to fully understand the scope of the problem students managing gender and identity issues face. While many of these obstacles extend to the classroom, they often begin far outside the school walls.

A wide-ranging 2018 study on LGBTQIA+ teens aged 13-17 outlined some of the major challenges these 2 million students cope with every day. 95% experience trouble sleeping at night, and 67% report family members making hurtful comments about LGBTQIA+ populations at home. These things all impact their ability to function and contribute to overall lower graduation rates, GPAs, and credit accumulation throughout their educational careers.

These and many other factors also take a toll on mental health: approximately 20% of students aged 12-17 experience depression on average, but for LGBTQIA+ youth, the rates of depression, anxiety, and negative self-image are all over 70%.

While many schools and new federal rules endeavor to provide a safe environment, there is clearly more work to be done. Only 5% of LGBTQIA+ students believe their teachers are supportive of their needs, and 74% report feeling unsafe in their classrooms from time to time. Even something as simple as using a bathroom can be a major hurdle, as 50% of trans students report never using them while at school.

These are just a fraction of the powerful statistics that affect the ability of LGBTQIA+ students to equitably participate in daily learning activities. All of these factors contribute to making it harder for LGBTQIA+ students to get an equal learning opportunity and are foundational considerations for establishing classroom guidelines and best practices.

Building a Supportive Classroom

Teachers set the tone and expectations for student behavior in their classroom, and as such, it’s important to create an environment that reflects inclusive LGBTQIA+ policies and ideals. Here are three core areas where teachers can make a positive impact when deciding how to support LGBTQIA+ students in the classroom.

1. Model Inclusive Language

Inclusivity means generating respect for others, and that begins with supporting students’ identity choices and preferences. Something as simple as the everyday language used in a classroom management plan or a choice of pronouns can open or close the door for LGBTQIA+ students looking for a safe space to join.

The careful use of gender and identity references in classroom materials and lessons can make a huge difference in how LGBTQIA+ dynamics play out. Educators should normalize the freedom for students to choose their preferred pronouns, and they can consider sharing their own as appropriate. Routine use of inclusive language and pronouns ensures that students don’t feel marginalized and is directly linked to lowered suicide rates among vulnerable youth.

2. Respond to Harmful Language or Behavior Immediately

Intentional or not, harmful language or behavior in the classroom needs to be addressed quickly. By making space during normal routines to have conversations that support inclusivity, teachers are investing in the overall effectiveness of the learning environment. Managing harmful comments or behavior in real-time also reinforces the theme of inclusivity in the classroom. It will serve as an example or learning opportunity for all students, as well as affirm to your LGBTQIA+ students they are safe.

However, it’s also important to make using more inclusive language a teaching point for all students rather than a firm disciplinary point. Just as young people need to know what words should be used, they should be given the opportunity to gain awareness of why some words can be hurtful to others.

3. Challenge Norms

Exploring how to support LGBTQIA+ students in the classroom requires educators to redefine expectations around a very difficult and problematic word:
“Normal”.

Even in classrooms that are largely homogenous in terms of race and lGBTQIA+  representation, highlighting moments that develop your students’ perspective of cultural and social variations empowers them with the tools to access a larger world and create more inviting and productive environments in the future. Here are some things to think about:

  • Evaluate the images, textbooks, and online content students are presented with. Do they reflect an accurate picture of our national demographics?
  • Avoid binary organizations of gender and promote activities that make space for diverse group compositions.
  • Advocate for LGBTQIA+ students among faculty and staff.

 

There are many touchpoints that can occur throughout a day—not to speak of an entire school year—but by investing in inclusive LGBTQIA+ policies and practices, your students and your coworkers will become your greatest allies in producing better outcomes.

Get Started Learning How to Support LGBTQIA+ Students in the Classroom

The present-day classroom is full of numerous challenges teachers are expected to navigate, and often without a great deal of materials and support. Learning how to support LGBTQIA+ students in the classroom is one of them, and may at times feel overwhelming. Gender identity and expression along with sexuality are not the easiest topics to manage, but they are indeed essential to creating an inclusive classroom.

Premiere is dedicated to creating professional development content for educators that helps them create more inclusive environments for LGBTQIA+ students. Courses like Not Alone - Techniques to Support Trans Youth by Brian Masciadrelli, PhD, LICSW (MA), LMSW (NY)
Adjunct Instructor in Music Therapy - SUNY Fredonia, President - Court Appointed Special Advocates of Chautauqua, and Megan Arbour, PhD, RN, CNM, CNE Associate Professor, Frontier Nursing University, equips teachers and administrators with the tools they need to understand and support a wide range of LGBTQIA+ issues affecting these students today.

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